By Tom Still
MADISON – There are many entertaining ways for diehard Wisconsinites to nurture a border rivalry with Minnesota: Packers versus Vikings, Badgers versus Gophers and our 14,000 lakes versus their 10,000 lakes. But missing a chance to cooperate on saving taxpayer dollars in hard times isn’t one of them.
That’s why Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, announced Jan. 13 they will work together to save money on everything from buying road salt, software and bulldozers to operating state telephone call centers.
Dubbed by some the “Minnesconsin Initiative,” state governments in Madison and St. Paul are reaching across political borders created in territorial days to find ways to cooperate in an era of globalism.
But it shouldn’t stop with joint purchasing, shared use of vehicles and collaborating on a host of services performed by both states. As the states build a track record of working together, policymakers in each state should also think about how to jointly compete in a world economy.
There was a time when interstate economic competition mattered a lot more than it does today. But that was a time before the Internet, overnight delivery, on-demand manufacturing and other social, economic and technology trends that have reshaped our lives. Today, we should worry at least as much about competing with Mumbai as we do Minneapolis.
Wisconsin represents a little less than 2 percent of the national gross domestic product, and a much smaller fraction of the world economy. It’s hard to stand out alone when the population of Wisconsin, roughly 5.6 million, could be contained in any one of China’s four largest cities or in any of India’s three largest.
When viewed as part of a larger Midwest corridor, however, Wisconsin and its neighbors play a bigger game. It’s defined as the “I-Q Corridor,” the 400 miles that connect the Twin Cities on the northwest to Chicago in the southeast.
Innovation, intellectual property, investment and, of course, interstate make up the “I” and quality of workforce, education and life in general form the “Q.” The region is home to major research universities, federal labs, investment capital and major tech-based companies in pharmaceuticals, medical devices and more. The I-Q Corridor is also home to more than 14.3 million people who live within a short commute of I-90, I-94 or I-43 between Chicago and the Twin Cities. Collectively, that’s a region that counts by any global measure – and it offers some tangible examples of economic cooperation:
· Midwest Research University Network includes the UW-Madison, Northwestern University, the University of Minnesota, Argonne National Laboratory, the Mayo Clinic, the University of Chicago and the Medical College of Wisconsin among its 20 members. It is an alliance of university business development professionals dedicated to facilitating growth of technology spinout companies through start–up formation.
· The Mid-America Healthcare Investors Network is an association of more than 48 venture capital firms from 14 states, with more than $2 billion under management. MHIN focuses on life science investment opportunities in the Midwest. Those sectors include companies involved in biotechnology, medical devices, bioinformatics, healthcare information technology, and healthcare services.
· The I-Q Corridor Investors’ Symposiums, coordinated through the Wisconsin Angel Network, the Illinois Business & Investor Forum, Minnesota GetGo and others, have brought together investors in face-to-face or virtual settings to discuss best practices, co-investing and more.
Unfortunately, there are many more examples of Midwest states living out football field rivalries when it comes to economic development – often because it means a perceived tax base win or loss. Wisconsin is probably no exception to the rule, if you ask economic development professionals in Illinois, Minnesota or Iowa. However, tax breaks and land incentives to lure a company across state lines are not as productive as programs designed to create more and better entrepreneurs, or to help existing companies compete globally.
“When it comes to thinking about economic growth, each state is bound by state lines that were drawn by the Northwest Ordinance more than 200 years ago,” said Richard Longworth, author of “Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism,” at a 2008 Wisconsin Innovation Network meeting in Madison. “But the economy ignores states and state lines.”
Midwest state governments and major institutions such as public land-grant universities should continue to explore ways to cooperate where cooperation makes sense. Our competitors in China, India or the European Union don’t really care about state lines drawn in 1787. They care about today’s economic realities. So should we.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.